Public services


Victoria County History



T F T Baker, C R Elrington (Editors), Diane K Bolton, Patricia E C Croot, M A Hicks

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'Acton: Public services', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7: Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden (1982), pp. 32-35. URL: Date accessed: 29 November 2014.


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A public conduit was constructed in High Street in the grounds of the Bell, later Suffolk House, by Thomas Thorney, who in 1612 left a rent charge on the adjacent Conduit close for its upkeep. (fn. 73) In 1755 a Chancery order confirmed the public use of the conduit and continuation of the rent charge. (fn. 74) In 1819 the rector paid for a new pump, as the conduit was in disrepair, and sunk a tank to exploit the spring. (fn. 75) The conduit later fell into disuse, allegedly because of the opening of the burial ground near by in 1863. (fn. 76) The pump, commemorated by a plaque in High Street, was eventually placed in Gunnersbury Park museum.

In addition to the medicinal springs at Acton wells, (fn. 77) several houses had their own wells. Butlers in Horn Lane had one in 1633 (fn. 78) and access was granted in 1670 to a pump there; (fn. 79) Friars Place Farm had a pump behind the house; (fn. 80) two deep wells were found under Derwentwater House on its demolition. (fn. 81) Edward Tuffin dug a well in front of his house in 1666, and there was also a pump at the upper end of Acton town, by the main highway. (fn. 82) A parish well in 1832 was rendered unusable by a nearby privy, (fn. 83) perhaps the well dug in a watercourse by a Mr. Trafford, who put a tub there for the use of the inhabitants. Probably just west of the Steyne, it was known in 1802 as Trafford's well. (fn. 84)

In 1831 Acton was said to be plentifully supplied (fn. 85) but in 1848 the vestry's sanitary committee reported a general want of pure water. In 1855 a vestry was called to consider the serious shortage in East Acton, where the poor apparently had to rely on ponds. (fn. 86) In 1861 the Grand Junction Waterworks Co.'s area was allowed to include Acton (fn. 87) and in 1879 the company laid pipes to supply Acton Green. (fn. 88) By 1893 Acton obtained most of its water from the company as a continuous supply, although some railway cottages at Willesden junction were supplied by the L. & N.W.R. from a deep well in the chalk near Watford. (fn. 89) From 1903 Acton was supplied by the Metropolitan Water Board, which took over the Grand Junction and West Middlesex districts. (fn. 90) In 1908 the U.D.C. was permitted to seek funds to sink an artesian well, which thereafter supplied the public baths, (fn. 91) and in 1909 a well was sunk for Messrs. Panhard & Levasseur in Warple Way. A few other factories south of Acton Vale also used deep artesian wells by 1931. (fn. 92)

Bad sanitation and drainage were reported by the vestry's board of health in 1832, when householders were ordered to remove nuisances and it was recommended that the pond at the bottom of East Acton be filled in. The surveyors were to clear out the cesspool at the back of the churchyard and the culvert at the bottom of East Acton. In 1834 a rate was voted to make a proper sewer to improve Horn Lane. The sanitary committee which was formed in 1848 inspected nearly 400 premises and ascribed much disease to poor drainage and sanitation. The committee was disbanded in 1849, as its work was said to be finished. (fn. 93)

A nuisance removal committee was appointed under the Metropolis Local Management Act, 1855, (fn. 94) and accordingly a sewer rate was made in 1857. The Metropolitan Board of Works in 1857 levied money in Acton, probably because drainage passed into the board's area to the east. In 1858 the parish refused to pay a second levy or to make the poor-rate assessment available to the board. The board brought an action in 1861, after demanding three years' rates, which had not been paid when Acton local board was formed. Meanwhile the parish had appointed a salaried nuisance inspector in 1859 and a lower paid clerk and inspector in 1863. (fn. 95) When the local board came into being in 1866 its first action was to order a report on drainage. (fn. 96) The resulting plan, for drainage from Bollo bridge to Acton Green and for the main sewer there, was carried out at once, while private drainage was strictly supervised. (fn. 97)

In 1882 the Metropolitan Board of Works obtained an injunction to prevent the connexion of any more houses in Acton to sewers that discharged into London's sewers, so ending Acton's use of Stamford brook. In 1884, after the rapid spread of housing, the local board's drainage committee chose the alum, blood, and clay method of sewage treatment, whereupon works were built at the southern end of Warple Way. (fn. 98) Outlets were made into the Thames at Chiswick Eyot (fn. 99) and the new drainage system (fn. 1) was completed in 1888. (fn. 2) Septic tanks and filters were completed in 1902 in Warple Way. (fn. 3) By 1904 the sewage of nearly half the residents drained into the London system, (fn. 4) and in 1905 the U.D.C. secured an Act to allow all sewage to pass into the L.C.C.'s sewers, with only storm water draining into the Thames. (fn. 5) A scheme for the southern part of the district was finished in 1908 and one for the northern part was adopted, (fn. 6) although the northern relief sewer had not been laid in 1911. (fn. 7) In 1956 an agreement was made for Acton's sewage to be discharged into the West Middlesex drainage system. (fn. 8)

In 1866 the local board sought tenders for the removal of house refuse (fn. 9) and in 1893 scavenging was still done by contractors. (fn. 10) In 1902 the U.D.C. bought a site in Southfield Road for a dust destructor and electricity plant, but it was only after rubbish piled near the cemetery had become offensive that a destructor was built, on 3½ a. near the Friars in Wales Farm Road, and opened in 1909. (fn. 11) By 1928 all rubbish was burnt in Wales Farm Road. (fn. 12) In 1955 house refuse was disposed of outside the borough. (fn. 13)

Gas lighting, under the Lighting and Watching Act, 1833, was adopted in 1862, when seven inspectors were appointed. (fn. 14) The area lit, known as the Town district, covered the high road from Berrymead Priory to Twyford Avenue, including the few existing side streets, the Steyne, and the lower end of Horn Lane. (fn. 15) In 1866 the new local board trebled the number of lamps to 79. (fn. 16) The Brentford Gas Co. was the supplier until 1926, (fn. 17) when it became part of the Gas Light and Coke Co. After nationalization in 1949 the supplier was the North Thames Gas Board. (fn. 18)

Under a provisional order of 1903 and after pressure from the Board of Trade (fn. 19) the U.D.C. arranged for the Metropolitan Electric Supply Co. to provide current to the council's transformer at the Friars, Wales Farm Road, (fn. 20) which was built in 1904. Service began in 1905 and in the first year cables were laid in c. 36 streets. Heavy costs led to the transfer of the municipal undertaking to the company in 1911, after much local dissension. (fn. 21) The company thereafter supplied electricity, buying the Wales Farm Road works in 1913. A station in Southfield Road, on land bought by the council in 1902, (fn. 22) supplied much of the borough in 1922 (fn. 23) but by 1940 only two new substations, in Lynton Road and Leamington Park, were in use. (fn. 24) After nationalization the supplier was the Southern Electricity Board. (fn. 25)

A cage or round house beside the church was rebuilt in 1815 to incorporate the new schoolroom. Burglaries induced residents to subscribe in 1818 to a watch: three watchmen were employed for the town and one for East Acton, supervised nightly by the parish constable and others. (fn. 26) Only two watchmen patrolled the town in 1828, after a fall in subscriptions, but it was claimed that crime had been greatly reduced. (fn. 27) In 1819 two paupers were clothed and appointed to remove vagrants. (fn. 28)

Acton was included in the new Metropolitan Police Area in 1829. (fn. 29) Police broke up a riot at the King's Arms in 1837. (fn. 30) There was a station in 1845 (fn. 31) and thereafter one remained at or near the site, no. 250 High Street, (fn. 32) with 2 inspectors, 2 sergeants, and 37 constables in 1890. (fn. 33) A magistrates' court was built in 1907 by the county council (fn. 34) in Winchester Street on the Priory estate.

A fire at Steyne mills in 1866, attended by engines from Chiswick and Hammersmith, prompted a call for local appliances. (fn. 35) In 1868 a fire brigade was formed and a manual engine was bought by the local board, being kept first in a shed by the churchyard and from the 1870s behind the local board offices. A fire station with a watch tower, and a mortuary at the rear, was built in 1899 on the north side of High Street at the bottom of Acton hill. A steam fire engine was bought and an engineer employed, helped by local volunteers. In 1936 the council purchased the sites of 15 houses on the east side of Gunnersbury Lane for a new fire station, (fn. 36) which was used from 1938. The former station was a welfare centre and kitchen for old people in 1979. Services were later provided by the Middlesex fire brigade. (fn. 37) By 1955 an ambulance and fire station had been built on the south side of Western Avenue. (fn. 38)

The vestry retained two residents in 1796 to attend the poor in pharmacy, surgery, and midwifery, at a salary which was doubled in 1813. (fn. 39) Acton cottage hospital, the gift of J. Passmore Edwards, was built on land in Gunnersbury Lane given by Lord Rothschild and opened in 1898 with 12 beds. (fn. 40) It was financed by voluntary subscriptions and gifts, which also paid for later extensions. Accommodation was nearly doubled in 1904 (fn. 41) and raised to 30 beds in 1909, when a children's ward, operating theatre, and outpatients' department were also added. (fn. 42) Patients paid according to their means from 1920, (fn. 43) when there were 35 beds. (fn. 44) In 1923 a further extension of 17 beds was built as part of the town's war memorial and praised by Neville Chamberlain, as Minister of Health. (fn. 45) Extensions in 1928, which included a nurses' hostel, gave a total of 62 beds. There were 72 in 1934 and 1935 (fn. 46) and, after upgrading during the Second World War, 84 by 1958. (fn. 47) After nationalization the hospital was in the North-West Metropolitan region and in 1979 it was in the Ealing, Hammersmith, and Hounslow area of the North-West Thames region. It had 84 beds, for acute cases, at the end of 1977. (fn. 48)

Infectious cases were being sent to Willesden in 1899. (fn. 49) In 1902 the U.D.C. bought the Friars estate of 12¼ a. in Wales Farm Road for an isolation hospital and other purposes, (fn. 50) and the hospital, which was to take no smallpox cases, (fn. 51) opened in 1905 with 33 beds in three separate pavilions, while the Friars formed the administration block. (fn. 52) In 1909 a new pavilion of 30 beds was built (fn. 53) and there were 88 beds by 1931. (fn. 54) In 1939 the hospital was managed by the Acton and Wembley joint hospital committee, (fn. 55) but after 1946 it became an annexe to the Central Middlesex hospital in Acton Lane, Willesden. (fn. 56) From 1953 it was linked with Acton hospital for administration and nursing and by 1963 it was called Leamington Park hospital, with 96 beds for geriatric cases. (fn. 57) In 1979 it was in the Brent and Harrow area of the North-West Thames region. (fn. 58)

A collection was made for Acton general dispensary in 1877 (fn. 59) and a public dispensary was operated in Mill Hill Grove in 1890. (fn. 60) In 1901 the Acton provident dispensary was opened at no. 1 Mill Hill Grove and directed by the staff of the cottage hospital. (fn. 61) In 1979 Acton health centre was held at nos. 35-61 Church Road and the community health services were directed from Avenue House, nos. 43-7 Avenue Road. (fn. 62)

There were privately owned baths at no. 91 Shakespeare Road in 1886. (fn. 63) The council in 1904 opened public swimming and spray baths on the Berrymead Priory site. Water came from an artesian well beneath the building, and by 1924 it had its own electricity, which also supplied the public library and municipal offices. (fn. 64) Another room for social functions, the King's room, was built c. 1928. (fn. 65)

There was a private lending library at no. 2 Churchfield Villas, at the corner of Myrtle Road, in 1886 (fn. 66) and a subscription library near the U.D.C.'s offices in High Street before 1901. (fn. 67) The free public library at the corner of High Street and Winchester Street was opened in 1900, as a Tudor Gothic building of red brick with stone dressings, named after Passmore Edwards, who paid most of the building costs. (fn. 68) Branch libraries were built at the corner of Acton Lane and Beaconsfield Road, and at West Acton, near the Underground station, by 1952, but both had been replaced by mobile libraries by 1957. In 1966 there remained the central library and a branch at Acton Green. (fn. 69)

The churchyard was the only burial ground until 1863, when the vestry bought 1 a. on the south side of Church Lane, later Churchfield Road West. (fn. 70) In 1893 the U.D.C. bought 13 a. of Lower Place farm, at the junction of Horn Lane and Willesden Lane, where it built two chapels and opened 6½ a. as a cemetery in 1895. (fn. 71) Further portions were consecrated in 1915 and 1926. (fn. 72) In 1979 Churchfield Road cemetery was being cleared to make way for a public garden as part of a plan for the town centre. The mortuary behind the fire station had been replaced by one in Petersfield Road by 1940. (fn. 73)

In 1881 the local board acquired from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners the wastes and commons, and part of the largest, Acton Green common, thereupon became a recreation ground. (fn. 74) In 1888 the local board bought 21 a. from the Goldsmiths' Company and 4 a. from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and laid out Acton park, between Churchfield Road East and Uxbridge Road, (fn. 75) with sports facilities. (fn. 76) Land in Bollo Bridge Road was bought in 1889 and 1890 to form South Acton recreation ground of 4 a.; the site of Acton ponds was bought from the Round estate in 1903 and laid out as Twyford gardens; Woodlands, with c. 6 a., was purchased in 1903 for the county school and a public park; North Acton playing fields of c. 22 a. were opened in 1908 (fn. 77) and included a moated site, formerly part of Friars Place Farm; Southfield Road playing fields were formed from 12½ a. bought from the Wilkinson Sword Co. in 1908; and Springfield park, Horn Lane, was formed from 5½a. bought in 1920. By 1924 the district had 84 a. of parks and open spaces, (fn. 78) increased to 95 a. by 1934 (fn. 79) and to 112 a. by 1952, (fn. 80) excluding private sports grounds. (fn. 81)


73 Guildhall MS. 10371/1 (booklet, 'Chars. of Acton').
74 Baker, Acton, 40; papers in par. church.
75 14th Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 382, p. 171 (1826), xii.
76 Baker, Acton, 40.
77 Above, social.
78 M.R.O., Acc. 276/22.
79 Ibid. 23.
80 Ealing Local Hist. Soc. Local Historian (1966), i. 10.
81 Baker, Acton, 109.
82 Guildhall MS. 10312/102 (ct. baron 18 Apr. 1666).
83 Vestry min. bk. (1822-57).
84 Ibid. (1801-22).
85 Lewis, Topog. Dict. Eng. (1831), i. 8.
86 Vestry min. bk. (1822-57).
87 24 & 25 Vic. c. 151.
88 Guildhall MS. 12697 (deed 30 Oct. 1879).
89 Acton local bd. Rep. of M.O.H. (1893), 15-16.
90 L. J. Flowerdew and G. C. Berry, Lond.'s Water Supply (1953), facing p. 44.
91 The Times, 2 Nov. 1908.
92 Acton libr., artesian wells, copy of sketch map from Water Resources Bd. [1971]; Acton M.B. Rep. of M.O.H. (1931), 9.
93 Vestry min. bk. (1822-57).
94 Ibid. 3 Apr. 1856.
95 Ibid. (1857-68).
96 Local bd. min. bk. i. 16, 18.
97 Ibid. 37 and passim.
98 Acton drainage cttee. mins. (1883-8) in Ealing town hall.
99 Ealing libr., Acc. 19/1, sewer easement 1886.
1 Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890).
2 Acton local bd. Rep. of M.O.H. (1888), 3, 5.
3 Acton Gaz. 4 Jan. 1901; Acton U.D.C. Rep. of M.O.H. (1900), 3; ibid. (1903), 25.
4 Acton U.D.C. Rep. of M.O.H. (1904), 46.
5 5 Edw. VII, c. 203 (Local).
6 The Times, 10 Sept. 1908.
7 Baker, Acton, 298.
8 Ealing town hall, Acton Acts etc.
9 Local bd. min. bk. i. 30.
10 Acton local bd. Rep. of M.O.H. (1893), 17.
11 Acton Gaz. 22 Feb. 1901; Ealing libr., Acc. 19/1; Baker, Acton, 298.
12 Acton, Official Guide (1928), 37.
13 Ibid. (1955), 12.
14 Vestry min. bk. (1857-68).
15 Ealing town hall, lighting inspectors' min. bk. 4 Dec. 1863 (recte 1862) to 19 Mar. 1866.
16 Local bd. min. bk. i. 29.
17 Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890).
18 S. Everard, Gas Light and Coke Co. (1949), 327, 382.
19 Baker, Acton, 290-2.
20 Ealing town hall, Acton var. cttees. min. bk. ii (1900-5), elect. subcttee. passim.
21 Baker, Acton, 290-2; The Times, 16 Nov. 1910, 1 Mar. 1911.
22 Ealing libr., Acc. 19/1.
23 The Times, 18 Apr. 1922.
24 Kelly's Dir. Acton (1940).
25 Acton, Official Guide [c. 1952], 14.
26 Vestry min. bk. (1801-22).
27 Rep. Sel. Cttee. on Police of Metropolis, H.C. 533, pp. 216-20 (1828), vi.
28 Vestry min. bk. (1801-22).
29 10 Geo. IV, c. 44.
30 The Times, 3 May 1837.
31 P.O. Dir. Six Home Counties (1845).
32 Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890); Acton, Official Guide (1928), 22; (1934), 6.
33 Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890).
34 Datestone.
35 Para. based on Baker, Acton, 283-5; Ealing town hall, Acton fire brigade mins. 30 May 1899 to 4 Apr. 1901, pp. 1, 3, 33.
36 Ealing libr., Acc. 19/2.
37 Acton, Official Guide [c. 1952], 14.
38 Ibid. (1955), map.
39 Vestry min. bks. (1775-1801, 1801-22).
40 Acton U.D.C. Rep. of M.O.H. (1897), 4; Boro. of Acton (brochure, 1922).
41 The Times, 6 Oct. 1904.
42 Ibid. 13 May 1909; Boro. of Acton (brochure, 1922).
43 The Times, 30 July 1920.
44 Acton U.D.C. Rep. of M.O.H. (1920), 4.
45 The Times, 13 July 1923.
46 Acton, Official Guide (1932), 38; (1936), 13.
47 Ibid. [c. 1952], 15; (1958), 12.
48 Hospitals Year Bk. (1979), 134.
49 Acton U.D.C. Rep. of M.O.H. (1899), 14.
50 Ealing libr., Acc. 19/1; Acton Gaz. 11 Jan. 1901.
51 Acton Gaz. 10 May 1901.
52 Acton U.D.C. Rep. of M.O.H. (1904), 41; The Times, 19 Jan. 1905.
53 The Times, 25 Dec. 1909.
54 Acton M.B. Rep. of M.O.H. (1929), 6; (1931), 8.
55 Acton, Official Guide [1939], 21.
56 Ibid. [c. 1952], 15.
57 Ibid. [1963], 13.
58 Hospitals Year Bk. (1979), 130.
59 Acton libr., churches, All Saints' 'Occasional Paper', June 1877.
60 Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890).
61 Acton Gaz. 4 Jan., 29 Mar. 1901.
62 Hospitals Year Bk. (1979), 134.
63 Ealing, Acton Dir. (1886).
64 Acton Gaz. 4 Jan. 1901; Acton, Official Guide (1924), 26.
65 Acton, Official Guide (1928), 26.
66 Ealing, Acton Dir. (1886).
67 Acton Gaz. 18 Jan. 1901.
68 Acton, Official Guide (1924), 28; Baker, Acton, 286.
69 Acton, Official Guide (1930, 1932, 1939, c. 1952, 1957); Ealing L.B. Guide (1966), 59.
70 Vestry min. bk. (1857-68).
71 Ealing libr., Acc. 19/1; Acton local bd. Rep. of M.O.H. (1893), 17; Baker, Acton, 304.
72 Acton libr., programme for consecration svce. 27 Jan. 1915; The Times, 2 Nov. 1926.
73 Above; Kelly's Dir. Acton (1940).
74 Guildhall MSS. 12697 (ind. May 1882); 12353 (ind. Aug. 1888).
75 Rest of para. based on Ealing libr., Acc. 19/1-2.
76 Baker, Acton, 299-300.
77 The Times, 4 Aug. 1908.
78 Acton, Official Guide (1924), 48.
79 Briggs, Mdx. Old and New, 174.
80 Acton, Official Guide [c. 1952].
81 Above, social.